Man thrusts fist at viewer

For eight seasons on the shameless sketch comedy series MadTV, comedian Bobby Lee cracked audiences up with his impersonations of celebs like Connie Chung and Kim Jong-il…but just as often by simply running around naked, even to the point where one sketch featured an Intervention-style sit-down with his concerned co-stars. It was a career-launching experience for the California native, who makes his Montreal debut this week as the host of Just For Laughs The Nasty Show. With his successful podcast introducing him to new fans, the 47-year old is happy to reflect on the good ol’ Mad days and share just how nasty he plans to get.

James Gartler: How did your popular TigerBelly podcast get started back in 2015?

Bobby Lee: My girlfriend asked “how come you don’t have a podcast?”And I said, “No one will listen if I have one.” So, she went to the store and bought all the equipment and told me “Well fine, I’m going to do it on my own then,” and for a couple of weeks she did. One day I just walked by the room and she was sitting by herself looking so sad, so I said “Fuck it, okay, I’ll do one with you”.

It turned out really well and we started accumulating a couple of episodes and building some good traction and eventually I was able to get really good guests, like Jordan Peele, Eric Stonestreet, Craig Ferguson and others. It kind of reinvented me in a sense. People wanted to see me again. So it’s been great.

JG: Do you feel podcasts are great medium for comedians? It seems like an open-mic night that can go on for as long as you want it to and no one can censor you really…

BL: Also you find your real audience that way, I’ve done a lot of different things – a couple of lines here and there in movies, TV shows and whatnot – but podcasts were the way to reach the people that share my real sensibilities and people that enjoy what I have to say. It’s reinvented my shit, man, and I’m pretty happy.

JG: Have you never performed in Montreal before?

BL: I’ve never performed in Montreal before. I’ve done Vancouver a bunch of times, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, all those rooms, but Montreal is the one festival I’ve never done, which is weird because I’ve been in the game for so long.

JG: You’re hosting JFL’s The Nasty Show, which is a popular ticket. How do you decide what material works best for that kind of evening?

BL: Well, not every joke I’m going to tell is going to be a dirty one. I feel like I’ll do an act that I would do in L.A. and that’ll suffice. People say that I’m really dirty – I don’t see that. I could have done The Ethnic Show a couple of years ago, but I decided that maybe the dirty one was more up my alley.

People think that when I perform that a lot of Korean people come out. I have no Asians come out. My audience is a mix of everyone. Obviously, I have Asian people that like me, but I wouldn’t say that’s my audience. If you see someone like Jo Koy, he has a huge Asian audience. I don’t think Asians like me that much.

JG: Why’s that?

BL: I won’t tell you who it was but many years ago there was a Korean actor at The Comedy Store who saw me perform and he came up to me and said: “you’re a disgrace to your people”. So that’s when I knew, “ohhhh, I don’t really connect with them really” (Laughs). Like, if you look at my audience, the people have tattoos on their eyeballs, or they have some weird thing they’re doing with their hair, they look a little dirtier, much like me. I’m just a dirty ethnic guy.

JG: On MadTV you showed a real propensity for running around naked. Did they request it or did it evolve over time?

BL: I just had this thing growing up where I just kinda liked being naked. It’s a control thing, to be honest with you. The other reason why I do it is because I never thought that I was that sexy, but once I started getting naked and being more comfortable with my body is when I feel like women started going “Oh – he thinks it’s good. Maybe it is good?”

It was a way to build my self-esteem, really to be honest with you. And also, getting naked on MadTV was nothing – I used to do some crazy shit. I used to poo in people’s dressing rooms. I pooed in the executive producer’s office once. So being naked is not the worst thing I did.

JG: So by comparison they overlooked it…

BL: Oh yeah. But MadTV taught me so many things about life. It really influenced me because it was so difficult being on that show, especially in the late 90s/early 2000s.

I was a little Korean guy on an American sketch show and that rarely happens.

For me to be able to get that show and learn how to act and memorize lines and perform on TV was so valuable. And also it taught me that “oh shit – maybe you can make it”. Getting there was so important to me on so many different levels.

JG: And a lot of the cast has moved on to great things. Alex Borstein, of course, has her great voiceover career and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are doing well for themselves. Who are most jealous of, from your costars, if anyone?

BL: Honestly, I’m not jealous of any of those guys because those guys are all family. I’m more jealous of people who are more my type. When people my type do better than me, then I get a little crazy.

JG: What’s your type?

BL: I think my fear is that when other when other Asians make it people think that I’m that person. Like when Ken (Jeong) got Hangover and it became a big hit, I would walk down the street and people would roll down the window and yell “Hangover!” so people thought I was Ken for years. That’s what I dread the most – when other Asians make it and people think that I’m them.

JG: Was there a backlash for MadTV alums after you left the show? The material didn’t pull any punches. You made fun of everything and everyone and it was hilarious. Was it hard to go into an audition and say “hello and yes – I’m the guy from MadTV”?

BL: At the time when we were doing it, it felt like… We had no control over what the show was.

When Keegan and Jordan and Ike (Barinholtz) were there, I knew, even though we weren’t really a hit, we were under the radar, but I still knew that the level of talent on MadTV that could rival SNL. I’m not saying we were better, but I was able to see so many good guys.

When I joined the show, Alex was still there, Will Sasso, Michael McDonald…all those guys are my friends and it was just a great introduction to comedy. Keegan and Jordan and Alex and all these people being successful only helps my cause. I feel like Key & Peele reinvented the way the industry views MadTV. I know that Key & Peele was their own thing, but they are MadTV people and they met on MadTV. The kind of talent I was exposed to completely and utterly blew me away.

And also, I got sober on that show. I discovered recovery on that show. I relapsed, I got sober and that’s how I was able to do movies after that. So even though there was some darkness, I have fond memories when it comes to Mad.

The Nasty Show runs July 17 to 27. Tickets are available at hahaha.com or by calling 514-845-2322. Follow Bobby Lee on Twitter @thetigerbelly.

Ronny Chieng is one of the few comics to bring an Asian perspective to the Just for Laughs stage. He is playing the Just for Laughs festival as part of his Tone Issues Tour but you can also see him on The Daily Show and in Crazy Rich Asians, his first role in a major motion picture. 

I had the chance to speak to Chieng over the phone. Being half-Asian myself, I know about the expectations Asian parents often have for their children so I asked if his family had different hopes for him career-wise. Chieng appreciated the question because one of his very first jokes at Just for Laughs addressed that.

He spoke of being sent to Australia to study law but he was a poor student. He became a comedian because he couldn’t get a job in law, and comedy ended up paying better. He even said that he didn’t tell his parents about his new career directly – they found out about it when he appeared in the local press in their home country, but they’re okay with his career choice now.

Since Chieng now works in America and a lot of his comedy is political, I asked him if he thinks Trump is good for comedy. He feels it’s fair to say that Trump is good for comedy.

“He’s bad for life, bad for the planet, and bad for the country, and bad for mental health everywhere. At The Daily Show we talk about him every day, so I’d be hard-pressed to say he’s not good for comedy. Would I want that? No, I would rather have someone else – he has more cons than pros for the comedy world.”

Though Chieng doesn’t like the Trump Administration, he doesn’t feel that comedians working in America should feel obligated to criticize it in their comedy.

Great stand-up, in his eyes, comes from really authentic points of view and pandering to trendy topics if you’re not personally passionate about them is not going to make for good comedy. 

While comedians shouldn’t feel obligated to talk about it, he feels that everyone – comedian or not – has an obligation to say something if they feel that something isn’t right.

Chieng’s comedy centers a lot on being Asian in predominantly white countries so I asked if his work was more about dispelling stereotypes or just about laughter. At first he joked that it was about making money, but then said that he is about fighting stereotypes or at least give them a little more nuance. 

“If there’s a stereotype, I would like to explain why that’s a stereotype and maybe take the stereotype to another level – explain the full story behind the stereotype or break the stereotype altogether if I feel a stereotype is unfair. I try to address it because I feel like no one is talking about it in society. I wanted someone to talk about it when I was growing up so that’s the kind of comedy I do. I hope I do the kind of comedy I wanted to see.”

While a lot of Chieng’s comedy is about lived experience, he does research on occasion to make sure he knows what he’s talking about. When it comes to his favourite topics in comedy, he said it’s mostly things that make him angry, saying he has an hour of such examples in his Just for Laughs show.

Crazy Rich Asians was Ronny Chieng’s first film role, so I couldn’t help asking him about it. Chieng loved doing the film because it was shot in Malaysia and Singapore, where he’s from, which allowed him to see family and friends during filming. 

The film was considered ground-breaking because it supposedly opened the door for more Asian characters in film when Hollywood still didn’t think it was possible. While Chieng doesn’t consider the film to be the be-all and end-all of films featuring Asian characters, he thinks the fact it was so well-received is amazing. 

“What the movie was really good at was not over-explaining Asian things and showing Asian characters as complete three-dimensional characters with complicated needs and wants. Some of them are good guys and some of them are bad guys, some of them are in between, they fall in love, they fall out of love, they have complicated lives. I thought that was very useful. I think it also established a baseline for Asian storytelling moving forward. I think there’s no context for Asian stories usually in the West, so a lot of movies can’t be made because there’s no baseline understanding so I feel like Crazy Rich Asians is a very good baseline story for Asian people in the West.”

There have been criticisms of Crazy Rich Asians as only showcasing paler-skinned Asians. For example, Filipinos like myself tend to be darker. Chieng sees the problem in the fact that in North America, Asian is considered a single voting block despite the diversity in Asian nationalities and cultures among the Asian diaspora. 

“You got Koreans, you got Japanese, you got Burmese, you got Thai, you have Filipinos, you have Malaysians, you have Chinese people, not to mention Chinese Indonesians, Chinese Malaysians, Chinese people who live in Japan, Chinese people from different parts of China with all the different dialect groups. Then you have the same number of people Americanized… and each of those groups are very distinct cultures. To expect one movie to cover the entire diaspora of Asia is an unfair burden placed upon it by Western views of what Asia is,”

In terms of criticisms that the film only showcased wealthier Asians, Chieng considers the movie satirical and that it showcases the extreme wealth that’s in Asia right now because that’s how the West experiences Asia in 2019.

Ronny Chieng is playing Just for Laughs from July 23 to 25. Check him out.

If Ned Starks’ death before the end of season one of Game of Thrones didn’t do it, the Red Wedding in season 3 cemented the fact that no character was safe on this show and anything could happen. The way the hit HBO show messes with the audience and defies expectations is why it’s the best show on TV right now and quite possibly one of the best of all time.

Now that The Long Night (the title of season eight, episode three) is over and the dust, or rather the shards, of former White Walkers has settled, it’s clear, at least to me, that The Battle of Winterfell delivered exactly what Game of Thrones promises. It’s just not in the way fans may have become accustomed to.

The Screen is Dark and Full of…I Don’t Know

Watching the episode live, our group wondered if there was something wrong with the streaming service we were watching it on as it was difficult to see a lot of what was happening at the beginning. Turns our Crave (I’m Canadian) wasn’t overloaded, parts of it were dark, in the literal sense, for everyone.

While this lead to complaints and even an explanation from the episode’s cinematographer (something about HBO’s compression rate), I think that the showrunners should just own this as an artistic choice. Because it’s a brilliant one.

It’s war. At night. In Winter. You’re not entirely sure what The Army of the Dead is throwing at our heroes. Well, neither are they.

When the flaming Dothraki swords go out, you don’t see what is happening to them, but you know it’s bad. You’re getting the same view of the battle that Jon (sorry, not going to call him Aegon until he asks another character to do so), Dany, Sansa and the Unsullied are. When the dragons crash into each other because of poor visibility, you don’t know right away that it’s just Jon and Danerys, and neither do they.

And I’d like to add that it looked beautiful. Everything doesn’t need to be brightly lit for it to be a cinematic treat.

Just as he did in The Battle of the Bastards, director Miguel Sapochnik made the audience feel as though they were in the midst of things for real. Low visibility and confusion for the audience is the new “I can’t believe you killed” x character.

All My Faves Didn’t Die

Speaking of character deaths, there were some major ones in this episode: Jorah, Theon, Melisandre, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Edd and, oh yeah, The Night King and the entire Army of the Dead (plus we don’t know about Rahaegal the dragon and Ghost). Most of the fan focus, though, has been on those who did not meet their end.

With this discussion terms like “plot armor” pop up in order to infer that GOT has lost its edge and joined the ranks of ordinary storytelling. It’s actually the opposite.

Brienne of Tarth got knighted last episode, something she has always wanted. Grey Worm and Missandei made plans to travel when all of this was over, the Westeros equivalent of three days away from retirement from the police force and I bought a boat.

These characters didn’t enter the battle with plot armor, they did so with giant narrative bulls-eyes painted on their backs. Their survival here is as much an unexpected event as Ned’s death was way back when.

Of Course it Was Arya

So Arya Stark killed the Night King and with one stab ended the Army of the Dead. An unexpected twist ending. Well, not killing the Night King to win, that was the main part of the plan laid out in the last episode: use Bran to lure him to the Godswood and then somehow take him out.

No, the surprise is that it was Arya who assassinated him. Yes, the only trained assassin in Winterfell at the time carrying out the assassination was the big surprise.

Even if you ignore those who called Arya a Mary Sue (it’s easy to, they ignored the season and a half we saw her training to do just what she did in The Long Night), there are still plenty of people who were surprised by (and also elated at) the choice.

Sure, this is something the show has been setting up since season three. Sure, the guy who knows everything gave her the weapon she ended up using last season. Sure, she snuck up on Jon in the same location two episodes prior.

It’s just that Arya had her own storylines. The Night King was part of Jon’s storyline and later Dany’s. He wasn’t even on Arya’s list. Arya killing the Night King is about as unexpected as Jon killing Cersi.

With this move, GOT defied expectations by having the most logical thing happen. Now no plotline is safe from being intersected by another.

Cersi as the Final Boss

So wait, the Night King and the Army of the Dead are no more? The finale is Jon, Dany and company versus Cersi for the throne? That can’t be right.

Or so I thought for a bit after the episode ended. Pretty sure I wasn’t alone in this, considering how they have been building the supernatural zombie aspect of the show since the very first episode and the Night King specifically since Hardhome.

But they’ve also been building up the intrigue, the scheming and Cersi Lannister from the very first episode. And with good reason: her double-cross which seemed selfish and ignorant of the big picture turned out to be really good strategy.

The Army of the Dead are all truly dead and Dany’s forces are seriously diminished. And even if someone (hi Arya) assassinates Cersi, the Lannister forces and the Golden Company won’t instantly shatter like glass.

Making the battle for all life in the world the second to last act is a truly unique choice. The kind of expectations-defying choice that Game of Thrones has made throughout its run and continues to do in its final season.

For the 550 some-odd people who made their way downtown to Hotel Bonaventure last Sunday, there was no place they would rather be. Montreal’s first Cat Expo in here, and with special guest television star Jackson “Cat Daddy” Galaxy in town, the excitement is palpable.

The Cat Expo is the first of its kind in Montreal. Sponsored by Mondou and presented by Humane Canada and the Montreal SPCA, the unique exhibition brings together local and international humanitarian organizations, artists and vendors. Guaranteeing an evening of educational and entertaining activities, freebies and talks, the Cat Expo has it all. From adorable, adoptable kitties to a DIY catnip station, the Cat Expo has all of our cat needs covered.

I wish I had a cat, I really do, but a university lifestyle and two hesitant roommates means I may have to wait awhile. But I’m excited nonetheless – I’ve grown up with cats my whole life and love to cuddle with my childhood BFFS (best feline friends) whenever I stop by mom’s house for dinner and laundry. The Cat Expo marks an important day for me, too – I may have to pull myself back from making an impulsive decision (i.e.; rehoming one of the kittens the SPCA is bringing for adopting), but, alas. The things we do for passion.

I make my way into the exposition hall just as the vendors are preparing for the influx of people. Big, silver balloons at the back of the hall spell out the words “MEOW” and “CAT EXPO”. A charicature artist – who draws humans with cat features – sets up her station near the stage, where the events special guest is to perform later on in the evening. After scouting the room, I sit down to speak with Daniel Filion, founder of Educhateur (or Cateducator in English).

From peeing outside the litter box to excess nightly meowing, Educhateur is a local company that provides solutions for problems in cat behaviour. With a team of over 15 people at its Montreal location, the organization provides interventions for all types of feline behavioural issues. They’ll come to your house, come to meet your furry baby, and work with you and your household to figure out how to adapt your behaviour and your conditions to meet the cat’s needs. Whatever the problem may be, Phillion’s got a solution – but you’ve got to be willing to compromise.

He’s got a charismatic energy, a natural entertainer who is eager to share with me his knowledge and passion. “We believe in a day where a vast majority of people will understand their cats and their needs to live in harmony with them,” he says.

Phillion works hand in hand with local veterinarians, explaining that many feline behavioural problems often have some undiagnosed medical issue. He started the company by himself in 2007, after finding that there was an extreme lack of specialists in the industry in Quebec.

The first thing he did was to go see Diane Frank, the head of Universite de Montreal’s veterinary department. “There’s no school, there’s nothing that exists. It’s a very new profession,” he explains. “I asked her, what can I do to help? Cause there were only two cat behaviourlists at that time.”

While animal behaviourists have been around for more than a few decades, Phillion addresses a important issue – we simply don’t know cats, or at least not as well as we should. “Even though [cats are] the most popular domestic animal in the world, people just don’t know what they need, don’t know how they are working. We need to inform people on this and we’re going to get better and better.”

Next I stop by the Paw Project, who have been advocating against declawing for close to 20 years. Members of the Paw Project have been fighting legislation from state to state in the United States, and members have even been the cause of Canadian legislation banning the practice here. I had the honour of meeting the organizations founder, Dr. Jennifer Conrad herself.

The declawing of a cat is more than just removal of the nails, it includes complete amputation of the last joint. Declawing may result in arthritis and other permanent disability and can thus become the cause of bad behaviour in cats. A declawed cat may refuse to use a litter box because of post-surgical pain, and with her primary defence taken away – her nails – she may even begin to bite, along with other aggressive behaviours. Declawing has already been banned in the UK and over twenty other countries in the world, but is still legal in many states and provinces in North America.

“[In] Nova Scotia and for Atlantic Canada, it’s illegal. A Paw Project director did that,” she tells me. “In BC and Alberta, the veterinarians have now voted to ban declawing, and that is because we have provided them with the information, and BCSPCA pushed because they’re like, look at all of this information.” Her efforts have even gone as far as VCA Canada, largest chain of veterinary hospitals in Canada. All 110 hospitals have stopped the practice of declawing.

She hands me a DVD from a stack – the 2013 film The Paw Project starring the Dr. Herself. This documentary follows Dr. Conrad in her campaign to ban declawing all around California and the rest of the United States.

“It started because I was repairing the claws on big cats,” she explains. “The policy has to change, or else you’re going to sit there and try to do individual after individual. And if the policy were changed, then you protect a whole population. That’s why it became a question of policy.”

I leave with a small pin that says “arretons le degriffage!” and dutifully attach it to my jacket. Feeling humbled by our conversation, I make my way back around to snap a few pics of the expo space.

In terms of vendors, there is everything from new cat technology (a cat-sized running wheel and a self-cleaning litter box are among some of my favorites) to local cat artists selling mugs with cute, cat-inspired designs. Mookie and Lulu Designs specializes in hand-made cat tipis, made “with love” and inspired by the founders own cats, who are named – surprise – Mookie and Lulu.

Inspired by her late cat, co-founder and creative Mya specializes in ‘cat tipis’, where a cat can spend her time grooming and chillaxing under the home-made canvas.

I asked her what inspired her most about her cats. “The love. Oh, the love,” she tells me, her eyes welling with tears. She is, admittedly, very happy to be here. “Oh my god, my life would be so empty [without them].”

Catorday is another favorite of the evening – designs include a cat in a Habs shirt skating down the rink, and the infamous We Can Do It poster, superimposed with the words “We Cat Do It”.

As seven o’clock rolls around, people begin taking their seats. The guest speaker is about to begin, and he is not to be missed. Flying in from Los Angeles for his very first time in Canada, Jackson Galaxy has been taming cats for over a decade.

His show My Cat From Hell, which just closed its 10th season, follows Galaxy as he tours around America to heal both cat and owner with his unmistakable empathy and talent. Loveable and quirky and definitely unique, Galaxy is the main reason many are here tonight.

Galaxy takes his audience on a ride, combining fact with humour and a lively and warm energy. It is not hard to understand how the man holds such power over cats.

His audience is entirely captivated, holding onto his every word. He delivers calmly, devotedly sharing advice on how to cat-proof your home, when to give treats and how to deal with even the unruliest of cats. I take notes to share with my friends.

The only room at the exhibition hall to feature actual, live cats is an adoption room set up by the SPCA. The room has been packed with people all night, but what else would you expect at a cat expo? While I wait my turn to get a glimpse at the sweet furry babies, I engage in a conversation with a member of the SPCA’ Trap-Neuter-Release-Maintain program.

Not actually at the Expo, just good to have an actual pic of a cat

To my own surprise, I learn that the Montreal SPCA offers a street cat sterilization clinic that is open all over the island. Aiming to keep the number of street cats down, the SPCA has inaugurated a system that involves trapping, sterilizing, vaccinating and deworming adult cats before either adopting them out to a new forever home, or releasing them back onto the streets if they are too aggressive or wild. Since its inauguration in 2010, the TNRM program has sterilized nearly 7000 street cats, contributing to lower levels of kitten homelessness.

The program works with the help of citizens like us, the representative tells me. A quick phone call to the programs’ lead department will provide you with more information on how to get started in your own community.

I stop by the adoptable kittens again, trying not to poke my fingers through their cages to stroke their soft, soft skin. Through a chorus of coos, caws and meows, I manage to snap a few pics of the little poofs and wish them luck in their search for a forever home, though I know I’d make a better cat mom than anyone there. Obviously.

As the night comes to a close, I do my rounds and thank all of the vendors. The Mondou booth hands me a free catnip plant, and I stuff a few packs of Temptations in my back pocket for my friends cats – I’ll be the fairy catmother this week, blessing friends with all the free treats and cat toys. I feel complete, equipped with a mind full of knowledge and an intense urge to fight for animal advocacy.

There’s nothing more I want to do now than snuggle in bed with a cat on my legs, forcing me to keep as still as humanly possible. Maybe I’ll visit my mom more often, or offer to catsit for my friend on her monthly trips to Toronto, or even consider fostering a cat with the SPCA.

I would call this edition of Montreal’s Cat Expo a success. A purr-fect balance of inspiration, passion and activism, the Cat Expo has so, so much to offer.

I would recommend this event to every and any cat lover and to anybody interested and invested in animal rights activism. This event has been so very long-awaited by so many people, and now that it’s’ here, I am paw-sitive it is only going to get better and better.

The only thing we can do is hope for a better future – for our cats and us, their human counterparts. Here’s to many more like one, and for a fur-midable first in-cat-ation.

All photos by Bree Rockbrand

If there was ever a slice of stereotypical Americana to come to Canada, it was Monster Spectacular XXV. Set in Montreal’s controversial Olympic Stadium, scores of mostly white people, some with kids, some without, filed in wearing variations of denim and camo to see what was supposed to be “a three-hour show with no time-outs and non-stop high-speed breathtaking action!”

The reality was very different. Those filing into the stadium saw the field scattered with dirt, ramps, and old cars for the trucks to crush.

Within minutes the air was filled with the deafening roar of motors and a slew of monster trucks with fancy names like Backdraft, Overkill Evolution, and Bucking Bronco revved their engines and did a lap around the stadium to kick up some dust and show off their machines. Anyone with a lick of common sense was wearing earplugs, while most parents had their kids in sound muffling headphones.

The emcee for the night was a bilingual bald fellow in a black suit, white shirt, and red bowtie. If they’d added glasses to his ensemble he’d be a dead ringer for the dancing old man in the Six Flags commercials.

He announced that the event would be a competition between the drivers and their trucks, though there were no scores on the stadium’s many scoreboards. Instead audiences were treated to a slew of ads by purveyors of car parts.

The stunts were ok, with trucks going up ramps, doing low jumps, and even occasionally resting on their two back wheels. Despite the emcee’s best attempts at revving up enthusiasm, audiences only expressed any excitement when something broke or someone was at risk of getting seriously hurt, undoubtedly a throwback to the days when public floggings and executions were considered family outings.

In addition to the monster trucks, the show featured Tuff Trucks Buggies, which are basically souped up dune buggies, as well as an aerial show by some dirt bikers. The buggies were boring; aside from a couple of jumps, it was as exciting as watching kids go-carting, and the latter would probably be cheaper and more fun.

The true stars were the dirt bikers, who not only featured the only female driver, but also did dazzling jumps off a high ramp, throwing their limbs in midair before landing seamlessly. The audience loved it.

Aerial bikers aside, the show was a total bore. After the first series of jumps, the monster truck displays got repetitious. Only the sight of possibly injured drivers emerging triumphant from their damaged vehicles could summon any enthusiasm from the audience.

Even those who remembered loving shows like these as kids were disappointed. As for the children in attendance, it was hard to say, though a couple of kids a few rows down from us found it more fun to toss popcorn in the air to try and catch it in their mouths rather than take in the show.

Maybe these kinds of events are more fun when you’re drunk.

Canada is a secular society, but we are a society that has recognized that secular laws and practices can coexist with many people’s religious beliefs and expressions. It is why in Montreal, for example, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and seculars live together in relative harmony. If Quebec Premier François Legault gets his way, this might all change.

Legault and his Coalition Avenir du Quebec party ran on a platform of promising to bar people who wear religious symbols from positions of authority in the province. They are attempting to do this with Bill 21.

This article is not going to discuss how the CAQ is so clearly pandering to the most disgustingly racist, xenophobic members of Quebec society. It is not going to talk about how the Bill represents the longstanding dispute between welcoming, diverse, multicultural Montreal and the rest of Quebec.

This article is going to talk about what Bill 21 actually contains and the very real fallout for the Quebecois affected if the bill passes. For the purposes of this article, “Quebecois” means anyone living in Quebec (and not just people descended from the original French settlers).

Bill 21 contains important changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, a quasi-constitutional law enacted in the 70s that contains some of Quebec’s strongest protections against discrimination. As the Quebec Charter is only quasi-constitutional, it can be changed by a simple act by the National Assembly.

Bill 21 changes section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter from:

“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.

Section 9.1 Quebec Charter of Human Rights, current text

to:

“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.”

Proposed version of Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights

The change thus creates an obligation among citizens to have respect for democratic values, state secularism, public order etc. in the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Quebec Charter. It does not, however, abolish section 10 of the Quebec Charter which states that:

“Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”

Section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights

The Charter also forbids discrimination in “the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” based on the aforementioned grounds. As these sections of the Quebec Charter remain on the books, any institutions that enforce Bill 21 could find themselves open to legal action under said Charter which also states victims’ rights in such cases:

“Any unlawful interference with any right or freedom recognized by this Charter entitles the victim to obtain the cessation of such interference and compensation for the moral or material prejudice resulting therefrom. In case of unlawful and intentional interference, the tribunal may, in addition, condemn the person guilty of it to punitive damages.”

Quebec Charter of Human Rights

Matt Aronson, a lawyer in Montreal says that “if a state funded institution practices discrimination as an employer, causing damages to a citizen, it’s possible that not only could a citizen sue to have the discrimination stopped, they may even be able to sue for punitive damages. Now, there is a section of the Quebec Charter that allows for rights and freedoms to be limited in scope by laws, but that would be a fairly difficult retort to state sanctioned discrimination.”

As a result, the government can and will find itself open to costly lawsuits if Bill 21 passes as increasing numbers of people have publicly committed to fighting back.. The English Montreal School Board, for example, has publicly stated that they will not enforce the Bill, and a public protest in scheduled on Sunday, April 7th, in Montreal.

True to Legault’s election promise, Bill 21 bars government employees from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions. This is the list of employees who will be affected – I am including the full list so people fully understand how many will be hurt if this law passes:

  • Judges, clerks, deputy clerks, and sheriffs
  • Members of the Comité de déontologie policiere – the group responsible for holding police to account for misconduct
  • Members of the Commission de la fonction publique
  • Members of the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole
  • Members of the Commission des transports du Quebec
  • Members of the Commission Municipale
  • Members of the Commission quebecoise des liberations conditionelles
  • Employees of the Regie de l’energie
  • Employees of the Regie d’alcools, courses, et jeux
  • Employees of the Regie des marche agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec
  • Employees of the Regie du batiment du Quebec
  • Employees of the Regie du Logement
  • Members of the Financial Markets Administrative Labour Tribunal
  • Members of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec
  • Chairs of the Disciplinary Council
  • Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions and lawyers and notaries working for said commissioners
  • Arbitrators appointed by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
  • The Quebec Justice Minister and Attorney General
  • The Director of penal prosecutions
  • Lawyers, notaries, and penal prosecuting attorneys
  • Peace officers who exercise their functions mainly in Quebec
  • Principals, vice principals, and teachers of educational institutions under the jurisdiction of the school boards

It must be noted that the law does contain a grandfather clause allowing all current employees wearing religious symbols to keep their current jobs. That said, anyone hoping for advancement would have to choose between their faith and a promotion to even be considered a candidate for one.

In addition to barring people wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 also demands that some government employees keep their faces uncovered in the exercise of their functions, a provision clearly meant to exclude women who choose to wear the niqab. Those affected include:

  • Members of the National Assembly (MNAs)
  • Elected Municipal officers except in certain Indigenous communities
  • Personnel of elected officers
  • Personnel of MNAs
  • Personnel of the Lieutenant Governor
  • Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions
  • Persons appointed by the government to exercise a function within the administrative branch including arbitrators whose name appears on a list drawn up by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
  • Peace officers who work mainly in Quebec
  • Physicians, dentists, and midwives
  • Persons recognized as home childcare providers
  • Anyone else designated by the National Assembly
  • Employees of government departments
  • Any bodies receiving government funds
  • People and bodies appointed in accordance with the Public Service Act
  • Employees of municipalities, metropolitan communities, and intermunicipal boards, and municipal and regional housing bureaus with the exception of some in Indigenous communities
  • Employees of Public Transit Authorities
  • Employees of school boards established under the Education Act
  • Employees of public institutions governed by the Act respecting health services and social services
  • Employees of bodies in which most of the members are appointed by the National Assembly
  • Institutions accredited under the act respecting the Ministere des Relations Internationales
  • Private family-type resources governed by the Act Respecting Health Services

In addition to barring certain government employees from having their face covered in the exercise of their functions, the law also requires certain people to show their faces in order to receive government services “where doing so is necessary to allow their identity for security reasons.”

The law does make an exception where the face is covered for health reasons, a handicap, or requirements tied to their job. The law also says that there will be “no accommodation or derogation or adaptation,” which means there are no exceptions anywhere.

Bill 21 not only alters the Quebec Charter of Human Rights to exonerate the government from open acts of discrimination, it also applies the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to bypass articles 2 and articles 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply by including in a discriminatory law an article stating that said law applies notwithstanding the Charter.

Articles 2 of the Canadian Charter deal with fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion, and articles 7 to 15 deal with legal rights including the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, equal treatment before the law, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Article 30 of Bill 21 states that it applies notwithstanding these articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the Notwithstanding clause has a failsafe in it requiring the government to renew the law in five years or open itself to legal challenges when that time expires.

That said, all hope is not lost. The law is currently tabled, meaning that the National Assembly has begun to consider it. It has not, as of the publication of this article, passed.

That means there is still time to resist. If you value our province’s protections against discrimination, contact your members of the National Assembly and pressure them as you never have before.

Point out that Quebec has a labour shortage and alienating and barring people won’t work to solve it. Tell them that the scores lawsuits they’ll face will be more expensive than any benefit they hope to gain if the Bill passes.

Tell them that if they want a truly secular state, all towns and streets and institutions bearing the names of Catholic saints should be changed immediately. Let them know how ridiculous their position is.

The fight is only over if we the people give up, so keep fighting.

Featured Image: Screengrab of François Legault defending Bill 21 in a Facebook video

In the 2018 film Jennifer Lopez film Second Act, the main character is dealing with being passed over for a position because she does not have the educational criteria that are needed for the job. She then gets a job under the false pretense due to a fake resume. Despite not having the education she excels in the position until she is found out by her work colleagues.

While this is clearly fiction, I do wonder if it is it possible to succeed without higher education in today’s workforce or if being a skilled worker can make up for not having that degree?

A 2016 Stats Canada Survey shows that Canadians that complete post-secondary education has a better chance of getting higher pay than their non-secondary school counterparts by upwards of 40 to even 60 percent. But does not having a higher education limit what a person can do in the workforce? It’s true that certain profession such as doctor, lawyer, and nurse require higher education but can other professions be learned on the job?

Years ago, people would finish high school and go right into a trade because the jobs were more plentiful and there was no need for higher education especially since higher education was something hard to achieve for many if they did not have the finances. Skills were acquired on the job and many would work at those jobs until they retired and several were even promoted to management positions.

However, many things have changed. Now many skilled labour jobs are being sent overseas and many jobs that once required laboured workers have been replaced by machines. Therefore, more people are competing for the jobs that are left. Therefore, it is making it more difficult for everyone to find a job. This makes it even harder for those who do not have higher levels of education to compete with others who do.

Now more and more jobs require people to have a degree. But is that degree really necessary? Can a person with years of experience in the field be just as effective or even better than the person who has taken training in school?

Although not having an education does not assure you will not be successful, there are plenty of successful people who have not finished school and have gone on to have successful careers. While education is good to have, not having it does not mean that a person cannot, or rather should not, be successful too.

The past few weeks have been insanely eventful on the political scene. In the US, the Americans are dealing with a president who is a white supremacist, a misogynist, and a fraudster seeking to keep the poor fighting each other so he and his fellow billionaires can enrich themselves with the very institutions established to protect the people. We Canadians would love to point and laugh, but unfortunately, we have a scandal of our own to deal with.

The buzzword up here is actually a name: SNC Lavalin. This article will give a crash course on what is going on and what it means.

Founded in 1911, SNC Lavalin is one of the leading engineering and construction firms in Canada, handling everything from infrastructure to clean energy projects. Though they operate internationally, their head office is in Montreal and they are a major employer in Quebec and thus highly regarded in the province.

Since 2015 SNC Lavalin has been in hot water with prosecutors and the RCMP. This is due, in part, to their dealings in Libya from 2001 to 2011, where they are alleged to have paid out $48 million in bribes to public officials in the country in an attempt to influence the government. The RCMP’s investigation also alleges that the company defrauded Libyan businesses of $130 million, actions in violation of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act which criminalizes giving loans or bribes to a foreign public official “in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business.”

In addition to the charges related to the SNC Lavalin’s activities in Libya, the company is also facing charges for a bribery scheme involving a $127 million contract to fix the Jacques Cartier bridge. In 2017, the former head of Canada’s Federal Bridge Corporation pleaded guilty to accepting $2.3 million in bribes from SNC Lavalin in relation to the contract.

The company is thus facing charges of corruption and fraud which, if convicted, could result in SNC Lavalin being barred from bidding on federal contracts for ten years. SNC Lavalin has maintained that they will cooperate with authorities but claim that the people involved are third parties or are no longer with the company.
In February 2019, prosecutors were ready to start bringing charges against SNC Lavalin.

SNC Lavalin in turn was seeking to avoid criminal charges via the new Deferred Prosecution Law passed in June 2018. Under this law, corporations can avoid criminal prosecution with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in which they must cooperate with the Crown and the courts including paying penalties and reparations, giving up any benefits acquired because of their crimes, stop their wrongdoing (obviously), and adopt any compliance measures.

Agreements are allegedly to protect employees from layoffs, as well as shield shareholders who knew nothing of the crimes while holding corporations to account for them. In order to be eligible for such an agreement, the crimes must be economic in nature, did not cause serious bodily harm, and there must be a reasonable likelihood of conviction for the offenses.

Unsurprisingly, SNC Lavalin was the first company to seek such an agreement under the new law. There was, however, a hitch. Under the law, the Attorney General of Canada must consent to the negotiation of the agreement.

This is where Jody Wilson-Raybould comes in.

Until she was switched to be the Minister of Veterans affairs in January 2019, she was the Attorney General of Canada. According to her testimony before the House of Commons at the end of February 2019, she experienced a:

“Consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”

Jody Wilson-Raybould in the House of Commons

The accusation is that the Prime Minister’s office repeatedly pressured Wilson-Raybould to offer SNC Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and that if such an agreement were not offered, there would be serious political consequences. As Attorney General, Wilson-Raybould had oversight and discretion over whether to intervene in cases that might be prosecuted by the Crown.

The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Russel, informed Wilson-Raybould in September 2018 that her office had decided not to invite SNC Lavalin to negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. By September 17th, having reviewed the materials, the then Attorney General decided not to interfere, despite the pressure from cabinet members and their staff about what this would mean with regards to Quebec and the upcoming election.

In January 2019, Wilson-Raybould was informed by the Prime Minister that she would be moved or shuffled out of the position of Attorney General to that of Minister of Veterans Affairs. Shortly thereafter, in February, she resigned from the Trudeau cabinet. Shortly thereafter, Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s principal secretary resigned over the SNC Lavalin affair. On March 4, 2019, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott also resigned from the Trudeau cabinet.

Why is the Prime Minister so bent on protecting SNC Lavalin?

Simple: it’s an election year and SNC Lavalin plays an important role in the Quebec economy. If SNC Lavalin falls, there is a concern about the economic consequences for the province. Trudeau needs Quebec to win the and is clearly concerned that acting against its prized engineering firm will affect his chances victory in November.

Given all the scandal this has caused, protecting the SNC Lavalin may not have been worth the trouble after all. Only time will tell.

Featured image via TechCharts.net

In the premier episode of the all-new FTB Podcast, hosts Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney talk about the Outremont by-election and Canadian politics with special guest Niall Ricardo and we feature an interview with NDP candidate Julia Sanchez.

Also: News Roundup, Survey Says (Should Major League Baseball return to Montreal?), Dear FTB, Things You Did Not Know (Maybe) and Predictions!

Recorded February 23, 2019 in Montreal

(DOWNLOAD)

Producer: Hannah Besseau

Hosts: Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney

Special Guest: Niall Ricardo, political operative with the NDP and well-studied political observer

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

First, let’s talk about our existing rights as workers.

On June 12, 2018 the National Assembly passed legislation changing Quebec labor law, presumably for the better. Some of the changes came into effect immediately, others only as of this January, and others as of May 2019. This article will discuss those changes, what’s missing, as well as provide a crash course on the existing rights of workers in Quebec.

When I was looking for a job I, like many others, had my CV up on a couple of job search websites with a profile indicating that I was actively looking for work. Within a couple of days of posting my CV I was bombarded with phone calls from companies asking me to come in for an interview for customer service work. Upon arriving at the interview I was given the ugly truth: the “job” that was being offered was commission-only and there would be no base pay for my work.

According to Quebec’s Act Respecting Labour Standards, all jobs in Quebec have to pay a wage. That means that whether you sell something or not, for example, your employer still has to pay you.

So these jobs are either illegal or have found a way around the law, possibly by not considering their workers to be employees, but rather independent contractors. If it’s the latter, then be aware that you also won’t be eligible for benefits like paid vacation.

If you are confident enough in your selling skills you feel you can get by this way, then by all means, give the “job” a try. Just be aware that you will also not be able to avail yourself of the important legal protections outlined in this article.

The minimum hourly wage employers must pay you is set by the government and currently stands at $11.25 an hour. As of May 2019, the minimum wage jumps to $12 an hour. Those who make minimum wage with tips will see their hourly pay increase to $9.80 per hour in May.

You are not considered to be paid unless the amount can be deposited within two days of receipt. If you get a call asking you to come in for an interview for customer service work, be sure to establish whether or not you will be paid a wage for your work so you don’t waste your time.

Quebec’s human rights laws also include protections for employees. According the Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights, employers are not allowed to discriminate in “hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” on the basis of “race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.”

The only time the law allows for discrimination on any of the above is if the organization is a non-profit, charitable, religious, or other organization devoted exclusively to the well-being of a given ethnic group.

In addition to paying you and not being a discriminatory douchebag, here’s a couple of other things your employer must do:

  • Allow you to do your job. That doesn’t just mean giving you access to your workspace, it means protecting your health, safety, and dignity in a way that’s consistent with the nature of the work.
  • If your boss decides to fire you, they must give you a reasonable notice of termination, taking into account, once again, the nature of the employment, the circumstances in which the work is carried out, and the duration of employment.

If your employer infringes on your rights, you have a couple of options. You can try to resolve the dispute privately with them, you can go to the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST – what we still call “Normes de travail”), or, if it’s a case of discrimination, you can go to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

If you choose to resolve the dispute with your employer amicably, be sure to speak to a legal professional or the CNESST’s information line before you sign anything. There are lots of affordable and pro-bono legal services available in Montreal. Contact one.

Important Changes to Quebec’s Labour Law

Under the old law, employees were entitled to three weeks of paid vacation after five years working for the same employer. As of this January, you only have to have worked for said employer for three years in order to get three weeks paid vacation. It also allows for more paid time off for illness and or if you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Under the old law, employees had ninety days to report psychological harassment at work, and sexual harassment was not considered a form of said harassment. As of June 12, 2018, sexual harassment falls under the definition of psychological harassment, and victims have up to two years to report the incident, presumably to ease their fears of immediate reprisals.

As of January 2019, employers must have a psychological harassment policy in place as well as complaint management procedures. The CNESST even has a guide available online for employers to help establish such policies and practices.

The new rules also address absences for family reasons, with the definition of “family” expanded to include the family of a spouse or partner. Under the new rules, employees are allowed up to five days off following the death of a loved one instead of the one day under the old law.

The changes also allow employees up to sixteen weeks a year to take care of a loved one, with more time allotted if the person in need of care is a minor.

Another significant change to the rules is that employees have a legal right to refuse to work more than two hours beyond their normal work hours. This change is clearly meant to address the issue of unstable working hours, forcing employers to give at least five days notice if they want their employees to work more than the aforementioned two hours.

The changes, brought in by the previous provincial government, are a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, they’re incomplete.

They fail to address the increasingly common practice of treating long term employees as temporary hires to avoid paying them the wages and benefits of a permanent hire. Ideal labor legislation in Quebec would penalize employers with workers that have been with them a year or more without permanent employee status.

The government that voted in the changes to Quebec labor law has been voted out. We have a new government in place that wants to fix the labour shortage without bringing in new people.

If the government wants to encourage people to fill vacancies their advice to employers should be simple: treat your workers nice and pay them better.

A recent study conducted by the University of Guelph showed that the average Canadian household can expect to pay $411 more for fruits and vegetables in 2019 than they did last year. This also means that families that are already struggling to put healthy food on the table will have to pay a heftier price for the essentials. As a result of this low-income families will forgo healthier items for the much cheaper processed food counterparts.

While food prices going up is nothing new, this year’s increase for fruits and veggies, according to the Canada Food Price report, will be 3.5% compared to 2018’s 1.5% jump. This can have a big impact on healthy living as fruits and vegetables are considered essential to a balanced healthy diet.

However, the price of meat products is expected to drop for the first time in a decade. But recent surveys have shown that many Canadians are eating less meat in order to adopt a healthier diet.

The price of eating out will go up, too. This has to do with the rising minimum wage and the higher cost of food.

So, what can you do if you are struggling to buy groceries to combat these new high prices? First, start by making a monthly budget with how much you are going to spend on food. Second, look for sales and specials, Thirdly, use point cards to take advantage of special that may be offered.

Finally, try and buy things from stores that sell in bulk or when you see specials buy items that you can freeze and store for a later date.

If you are someone who enjoys eating out, maybe cut down the number of times you do: only on special occasions or maybe a few times a month instead of a few times a week.

But whatever you do, try and be a smart shopper. Looking out for specials and deals can save you a lot of money this year.

Featured image via Sunrise POS Creative Commons

A brief history of tea, according to me:

We figured out fire (ouch & yay), and soon put water near said fire. Look! Bubbles! Hey, those leaves smell good, let’s throw them into the bubbles! Wait, these flowers are pretty interesting, what if we… Well, that worked out. Now, what if we add some candy cinnamon lips?

This bring us to modern day, where purists roll their eyes, and the curious fairly ask, but is it tea? No, some of it’s tisane, but that’s not the point.

Personally, I’m excited by all the impressionistic flavors, not to mention all the wonderful names they come with. It makes shopping for teas a whole adventure as I explore, sniff, sample, and come home with packages wrapped like bonbons.

But sometimes, I don’t wanna. It’s cold, it’s gross out, I’m comfy where I am, screw pants. I still want creative teas though. Now.

Oh, hi, MyTeaBox.ca, fancy meeting you here!

First up, it’s Canadian, and I love that. Plus, I’m tired of the sticker shock when online prices convert to CAD and then add exorbitant shipping costs.

Another perk, small but important, is that the package fits in an apartment sized mailbox, which is super awesome if you live somewhere prone to thefts, or if your package pick up point is in an inconvenient spot, and I check both of those, so I was thrilled. Good start.

Plus, the packaging itself was charming, and it felt like I was receiving a gift from a Pinterest minded friend, which is exactly what Alisa Donaldson had in mind when she started the company. She told me by email that she “really connected with the idea of receiving a surprise in the mail every month (kind of like Christmas, or your birthday, but every month!).”

And my reaction is exactly what she was going for: “I love sharing that joy with our subscribers every month. I’m thrilled when we hear back from our subscribers about how much they love getting their tea boxes . We’re so happy we’re able to make that experience for them; it’s the reason we do what we do.”

Each box comes with three loose tea/tisane blends, and because this was my first box, I also got a handwritten card, and heart shaped infuser. Small touches are almost everything, and this felt really thoughtful.

This was the December box, and might I say, I was pretty relieved that there were no chai or “spice” variations in sight. I dig both, but everyone gets a little seasonally flavor specific, and I’m full of them right now, thanks.

I found the infuser glitchy, and I couldn’t get it to stay closed. I blamed myself, but my bf tried too, and we never solved it. No biggie, it was a bonus, and probably only the right size for a small cup, anyway. The instructions for each flavor were based on 8oz cups, and I like my tea big and strong, so I busted out my own gear, and started steeping.

First up, was Frosted Sugar Plum which the tagline called “sweet and fresh, like a ballet on your tongue”. Man, I do love me a good tagline. I don’t love black tea however, so this one was kind of bound to be my least favorite.

It was floral, and did help me evoke thoughts of tiny ballerinas on my tongue, but then I wanted them to leave. Not the tea’s fault, and this one was hands down my boyfriend’s fave, proving there’s something here for everyone.

Next was Chocolate Mint Perfection, and here’s a flavor that lends more to the drinking than the describing. It was perfectly mint chocolatey, wonderfully balanced, and aptly named.

My hands down fave was called Dessert but not Dessert, and I’m almost out of it. It was zingy and fruity, and reminded me of summer flavors, and maybe some shortcake, or crumble type thing.

It was a vibrant red, which cleared the darkest edges of my winter blues. I let it get cold, and yup, it makes a wicked good ice tea too, all fresh and juicy.

This box was fantastic, and super satisfying. As for the subscription, you can prepay (three months, six months, and one year) or pay $24.99 a month, which I would easily spend if I braved the snow, (slush, wind, rain, and whatever else is happening these days) to go find fun teas.

While this box was sent to me free for review, I definitely feel like I got $25 worth of enjoyment, and this one is on my shortlist of Presents I Intend To Buy Myself.

Cheers 🍵

January in Montreal means many things: frigid weather, atrocious driving, and from a commercial perspective, Valentine’s day prep. There is no clearer demonstration of this than at the annual Salon de l’Amour et de la Seduction.

Sponsored by MyFreeCams.com, it’s held every year towards the end of January and is a massive combination of trade show, educational conference, and performance festival. The rules are that it’s eighteen plus, you must be respectful and mindful of consent, and though you’re welcome to dress to impress, you must keep your genitals covered at all times. Inclusion and open minded-ness are the name of the game, and the Salon does a lot to make sure its disabled attendees are comfortable, with ramps and seating areas for those with visible and invisible illnesses.

As a reporter who’s had the honor of covering the event every year, the differences between this year and last year’s Salon did not go unnoticed. One of the biggest changes was clearly due to Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana.

Though in previous years, vendors of bongs and pipes had one or two tiny booths, this year their presence was much grander. One massive booth offered pipes, vapes, and bongs in a variety of materials and price points. Another booth was devoted to HighonLove.ca, a Canadian company that makes hemp-based massage and bath oils, lubricants, and even chocolate body paint.

Though their products seem sound, their prices are quite high, with a bottle of massage oil going for as much as sixty bucks. The representative I spoke to said that this was because the product contained no fillers, though it is clear that their prices are also driven up by their fancy packaging, which gives it the appearance of a luxury brand.

Among the sex educators present this year was Morgan Thorne, author of A Guide to Classic Discipline, Exploring BDSM: A Workbook for Couples and Medical Aseptic Technique for BDSM. Thorne is not only a sex educator who runs BDSM workshops and offers Couples Education and Coaching both in person and online, but she is also one of the only visibly disabled exhibitors present at the Salon.

Morgan Thorne

She spoke to me in depth from her wheelchair as I leaned on my cane about the difficulties disabled women face getting treatment for pain issues. The impression she gives off is one of empathy and open-mindedness and also has free BDSM educational videos.

Among the many sex toy vendors at the Salon this year was Bliss, which had a second booth for their other company Spank Toys. Of all the vendors at the Salon, their prices for vibrators were some of the most reasonable, with a decent model going for as little as thirty dollars.

Bliss

I noticed upon arrival that there were fewer exhibitors this year. A representative of the company named Jeff told me that this was because the cost of exhibiting at the Montreal show – the Salon also has events in Las Vegas, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Red Deer, and Toronto – was particularly high this year. Despite the high cost, some smaller vendors were also at the Salon to showcase their works.

One such vendor is DicksWithWicks.com, which sells penis-shaped candles. I asked their representative whether her products were modeled on a real penis and she told an amazing story. She was on social media one day when a man sent her an unsolicited dick pic. Her horror and sense of violation quickly turned to empowerment.

She asked him for more photos of his junk from different angles, which he freely and willingly provided. The photos were then used to make the mold for the candles. When the man in question saw the products, he demanded a share of profits, to which she rightfully replied that he sent the images freely and with no presumption of privacy and she therefore owed him nothing. In the era of #MeToo, we need stories like hers more than ever, and it is companies like these that we need to support.

Another small vendor present was Exotique Spa Candles, a company that makes blacklight sensitive candles for sex play. Designed to not burn you when the wax is poured on your skin, the proceeds of their products go to the Alberta sex positive education and community center, a sex ed group that gives courses and workshops on consent and sexual health.

Their representative spoke to me in depth about how there is still a lot of shame tied to sex and sexuality in Canada and that the shame keeps people from having healthy discussions about it. A lack of discussion and health education has led to such problems as the increasing rates of gonorrhea and syphilis among people over the age of fifty. Information about their non-profit can be found at Aspecc.ca.

In addition to vibrators, dildos, candles, and lingerie, the Salon features the latest sex toy tech. La Marquise Sex Toys had a lifelike sex doll on display. Their rep said the entire doll costs around ten thousand dollars, but they also had lifelike hips with vagina and anus built in for four hundred dollars.

.Another company, Robot Sex Machine, had two machines in operation, demonstrating how their technology could be used to rhythmically move dildos and pocket pussies.

One of the biggest disappointments of the Salon this year was their kink corner. Though in the past the kink section had ambient lighting and tamer displays of kink, this year was a demonstration of mismanagement and a lack of discussion about what should be shown.

When I arrived the kink corner on Saturday around 2 pm, the area was impossibly dark due to a lighting issue that had never been resolved, and the displays of kink were too hardcore even for this crowd.

Many who come to the Salon and check out the kink corner are not kinky themselves, but curious and perhaps tempted to try it. That means that what they see should not be overly shocking, and should certainly represent healthy BDSM relationships to dispel myths resulting from the Jian Ghomeshi trials and the abuse portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Unfortunately, while one section showed a tame display of rope play, a kinkster in another section was furiously spanking and whipping a sub with few check-ins or after care. It was a display that turned the stomach of my friends, some of whom are kinky themselves.

It was the kind of display that would scare some off and give others the impression that abuse is acceptable if you call it BDSM. That said, I know the kink community can do better, and here’s hoping they do so next year.

The Salon de l’Amour is a lot of fun. Not only can you get quality sex toys and lingerie at discount prices, but you’ll also see great shows, see innovations in sex toy tech, and learn about sexual techniques, identities, and kinks. Your ticket also has the benefit of helping small businesses and educational groups that in the era of #Metoo need our support more than ever.

Check it out, have a blast, and leave your judgments and biases at the door.

Photos by Kerry Ann Cannon

When people fantasize about winning the lottery, they talk about things like world travel, lavish homes, fast, shiny cars. If / when I win it big, I will be filthy with subscription boxes. Enough to keep a courier in business just bringing mystery prezzies to my door, preferably daily, if I plan correctly. In fact, I will probably need a dedicated Subscription Box Manager to deal with things like timing, finding new, fab boxes, and figuring out how much it will cost to get them to Canada (if they’ll ship here at all).

Until then, allow me to be your subscription box advisor. Let me just wipe away this silver scratchy stuff…

Please note, that the boxes in this series have been sent to me for free and for the express purpose of review.

Per their website, Kawaii Box (part of Japanese-owned Kawaii Group) wants to spread kawaii culture around the world, and help you “kawaii-fy” your life, with the belief that “even a tiny dose of cuteness can provide a boost of positivity to our life.” That’s an ethos I can get on board with.

I received the winter / Christmas box, which is an extra perfect time to get fun surprises, and this one was a candy store for my eyeballs!

Oki, what all do we have here?

For starters, I received a pair of smiling pink decorative baubles balls. They’re absolutely tree decorations, but considering the look of them, these mamma jammas will be hanging around my house all year long making me happy.

There was a pack of Christmas stickers (that made their way into someone else’s stocking, where they were properly appreciated), and also Christmassy was the pink and white candy cane pen. Theme be damned, I’m picky discerning about pens, and this one writes really smoothly, and it’s soft to the touch, so I intend to use this one long after the thaw.

There was also a mermaid change purse shaped like a shell, and I was glad that it wasn’t a unicorn.

Can you have a kawaii box without Sanrio? Probably, but I didn’t have to find out, because I got a Cinnamoroll eyeglass / all-these-touch-screens cloth, which naturally doubled as a blanket for the ridiculously cute Amuse Alpacasso pastel rainbow alpaca. Holy smokes, this little dude made my day.

It’s impossible to say exactly why, as with any kawaii (or any style group, really), it’s all in how it hits, and this one got me in the feels. It made its way into my bag for a road trip to the East Coast, where it made me smile each time I came across it.

When I saw the ring pack, I was ready to wear flowers on my fingers all through the snowy season, but unfortunately, they were the tiny plastic ones made for kiddie party bags. In hindsight, it makes sense, but they really woulda looked so cute on me all at once (they fit my alpaca though).

Munchies on the other hand, fit everyone. There was a duo of cookies, quite like tea biscuits with chocolate, and while they probably would’ve made another adorable stocking stuffer, I ate them instead, and they were ok.

The scene stealer was a bag of tasty, crunchy goodies. While they were akin to oversized cereal bits, they were more than that. The texture was more complex than just cereal, somehow a little velvety before the crunch, and they were perfectly sweet without being too much.

My boyfriend and I ate the bag in no time, and we both agreed that it was probably a good thing that we couldn’t run to the dep for more, or we def would have. Often.


And I think that’s what this box is best for: those treats that you’re unlikely to encounter elsewhere. For instance, Kit-Kat is one of the partner brands, and Kit-Kat Japan has so many intriguing flavors and limited editions going on that you’ll never stumble upon here.

For me, the box was something of a sugar rush, brightly coloured and short-lived. I think it would be best suited for a kawaii minded adult with a li’l one on hand so the smaller trinkets get properly appreciated, while the grown-up eats the good candy, because c’mon, don’t waste good candy on kids.

Some of the other partner brands include Disney Tsum Tsum, Pocky, Pokémon, and Pusheen, so open the box while the kids sleep, and keep the best bits for yourself.

Shipping is free worldwide (yay!), and the subscription price is def worth the amount of fun:

  • $26.41CAD/month
  • $25.09/month with a 6 month subscription
  • $23.76/month with a 12 month subscription

The fab folks over at Kawaii Box are giving one of our adorable readers a free box to spread the smiles!

Forget The Box Kawaii Box Giveaway

Next Time: MyTeaBox.ca

It’s the New Year and if you are like many people you have reflected on the last year and made promises to yourself about the upcoming one. But if you’re like most people, you will find that your New Years resolutions won’t last beyond a few weeks. So why do New Year’s resolutions not last long?

Well its simple, when the New Year begins it’s easy to make ambitious goals, but the hard part is following through. This is because people make resolutions that are not easily achievable.

There is nothing wrong with making goals about planning on losing weight, saving money, making new friends or whatever they may be. The problem is how you go about it. For instance, instead of making a resolution to lose 50 pounds, plan to lose ten by a certain date and another five by another date.

By making little goals you are more likely to meet your ultimate goal. Instead of making a resolution to save thousands of dollars, make a plan to save smaller amounts of money in order to make your long-term goal. Once you have achieved the smaller goal it will be easier to achieve the long-term goals that you have set out for yourself.

Normally when people make ambitious goals and fail, they abandon all their other goals as well. This is why its best to make smaller goals so you can see the process you have made and get the motivation you need to continue with what you started.

Another way to keep focused is by creating a goal board. This is where you write down or illustrate things you would like to accomplish and achieve. You can draw pictures on a blank canvas, cut pictures out of magazines or write down your goals. How you do it is not important, making sure the goal board is somewhere visible in your home to remind you of your goals and expectations for the year ahead is. This will help you stay focused on your goals and resolutions.

Finally, if you tell your friends and family what your goals are, they may be able to motivate you to help keep you on track. They can give you tips, motivation or little words of advice when you’re having a downtime.

Keep focused and Happy New Year! Let’s make those resolutions count!

* Featured image by Creativity + Timothy K. Hamilton via Flickr Creative Commons

Tourisme Montréal released a new promotional video a few days ago. It features…no wait, summarizing it can’t really do it justice. Just watch it for yourself:

In general, response has ranged from “WTF was that?” to polite attempts to find something positive about it. Even Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said “Huh. Okay, that’s interesting interesting,” before adding that at least it was getting people to talk.

But will that talk and the video it is about work? Well, I suspect it will work wonders for singer Mathieu Samson’s career.

Curious, I googled him and found another video he released, without
Tourisme Montréal funding, but with the same cheesy 80s-inspired effects. He just got huge exposure doing something completely in keeping with the style he was already going for.

But will Tourisme Montréal achieve its goal with this video? The short answer is maybe. This becomes more apparent when you properly define what the goal of this particular video is.

The chorus of the song goes “Québec, Reviens-Moi” and the outdoor scenes are winter scenes. The goal clearly isn’t to bring people from Vancouver, the US and Europe here in June, but rather to suggest Montreal as a winter destination, possibly just a weekend destination, to people elsewhere in Quebec.

Understood as such, foregoing beauty shots of the city in favour of a giant, miniature and normal-sized Samson visiting places everyone in the intended audience already know about makes sense. They aren’t even going full cornball. If they were, there would have been a shot of our infamous “ugly”Christmas tree.

Instead, the cheap 80s effects are a fun way to remind Quebecers on a budget that an affordable and fun vacation is just a (relatively) short drive or bus ride away. Still, the video does drop the proverbial ball a few times.

It seems to harp, both lyrically and visually, a bit too much on the Ferris wheel in the Old Port. Sure, it’s open year round, but I live here and haven’t felt inclined to take a ride, can’t imagine it being as big a draw as they think it is.

Also, while the Habs are definitely a sellpoint for the city in general, bringing up the fact that we still have pro hockey here, as the video does in one verse, may hit a bit of a sore spot for people in Quebec City. Plus, do we really need the Big O to make an appearance?

While some might see this as akin to the National Anthem for the Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles Borough the previous Coderre Administration paid $50 000 for out of our 375th Anniversary funds, it’s not. Sure, both are cheesy and municipally funded, but that’s where the similarities end.

The RDP/PAT anthem used (way too much) public money destined to promote the city as a whole internationally to placate some people in one borough. This video is a targeted campaign to bring a specific set of potential tourists to the city.

It may or may not work, but it’s not the vapid piece of hipster irony it comes across as to many, including me at first. Honestly, now after writing about it, I kinda like this video.